Story and photos by Yvette Cardozo
It was the marching. Always marching. Together. To EVERYthing. But I truly wanted to taste what it’s like to be a Royal Canadian Mounted Police cadet.
The Dudley Do-Right guys tend to, well, blend into Canada’s background. But they are there, ready to enforce the law and also, I learned, ready to help. They are part cop, part soldier, part Boy Scout. And VERY fit.
I couldn’t believe how fit you have to be to even get accepted, much less last the six months of training at Depot, the RCMP training academy in Regina, Saskatchewan. I think it’s all those pushups.
There were 12 of us, forming our own troop (Troop M for, yes, media). Three Americans and a passel of Brits.
First was a tour of the RCMP Heritage Centre where we learned, among other things, that since 1885, over 60,000 Mounties have been created. We also learned that when women were finally accepted in 1974, they initially had to carry their gun in a purse.
“They probably would have had better luck clubbing a criminal with the purse than fumbling for their gun,” someone quipped.
Mounties haven’t been mounted on horses for service, by the way, since 1966, but horses are still used for ceremonies.
It takes $150,000 to train a cadet, which is most likely why it’s so hard to even be accepted at Depot. Sometimes it’s years of paperwork. And there’s a brutal physical test (more about that later).
Thankfully during the tour, we weren’t tested on all we were hearing as entering cadets are, nor made to do pushups if it looked like we weren’t paying attention.
From here, we got our “uniforms” ... blue T-shirts and ball caps with our names in huge white letters. Yes, mine was misspelled.
Then on to our dorm rooms. The whole place has the look and feel of a circa 1960s mid size college campus ... same red brick buildings, same spartan (twin bed, dresser, TV, aging bathroom) rooms. But we did have our own rooms. Cadets are usually in a “pit,” a thin slot separated from the next person by three-quarter walls and curtains.
Dinner (think college cafeteria food) was with Troop 4, who were in their second month of the six month training. The stories were varied and sometimes heart breaking. One young man came from a broken home and realized it was get on the right side of the law or not make it in life. One man had to go home for family reasons after 10 weeks and was back, but had to start over from the beginning. One had tried for six years before finally being accepted.
The oldest in this troop of 32 was a man, 53, who had been a deputy.
“He’s probably fitter than most of us,” one cadet said.
The oldest ever graduated was 56. Um, I’m just months from 70 so surviving this is, I guess, a badge of honor for me.
“Everything is earned,” Sgt. Pharanae Jaques told us. It’s running shoes and double time jogging for weeks before you get the black lace-up army boots and more weeks before you get the shiny, knee-high riding boots, the flared pants and Mountie hats.
“You don’t even get to salute for 10 weeks,” she added.
She demonstrates, snapping her hand, palm out, to her hat brim.
“If you’re saluting with your left, it means you’re done with your right hand and I’ll be happy to remove it,” she added.
Oh yes, and you can’t walk on the sidewalks. That, too, is earned.
Everything is supposed to be perfect ... perfect creases in the shirts, perfect shine on the hat brims and those black combat boots.
“Like this,” one cadet said, pulling a strip of pantyhose out of his hat and buffing the tips of his boots.
Morning: 05:30. Ugh. At 06:20 it’s time to learn how to move as a troop (line up by height, two rows, step smartly together, always together). And off to the square for the raising of the Canadian flag and dawn parade. Then breakfast and drill practice. And the serious stuff begins.
We have a Right Marker (troop leader) named Holiday (nobody uses first names), who barks orders.
“Atten-shun! Count off!”
It’s one, two, three, four, each cadet snapping his head left at the count.
Our drill instructor, whom I silently tag “SW” for “Scary Woman,” is a no nonsense type, ramrod straight, sharp voiced, every hair in place. We learn how to stand at ease ... fingers straight down, right hand over left, feet shoulder width apart and at a slight angle. Even how high you swing your arm and hold your clenched fist (thumbs up) is specified.
Screw up and it’s pushups, not for the one but the whole troop. You are learning how to work together. Some troops do hundreds in those first few days.
It’s summer. It’s hot. I’m out of breath. We sweat.
And THEN we head off for physical training.
The warmup ... THE WARMUP!!! ... is a circuit of jogging, slamming a medicine ball into a mat, balance beam, burpees (you don’t want to know), pushing a weighted sled, dragging a 180 pound dummy back and forth, scaling a five foot wall, throwing the ball against a wall, then crunches with your feet in the air. Five times. Then repeat four times, three, two, one.
Next, we got to try the PARE (Physical Abilities Requirement Evaluation), a circuit cadets must pass in under five minutes to start, under four to graduate. Running, leaping across a five foot long mat, up and down stairs, over small hurdles, then a large one, a pushup, a weight thing I couldn’t even get off the wall. All of this six times.
Okay, one of the Brits (sign this boy up!) did one circuit in 19 seconds. It took me a full minute.
But it was the applied police sciences class that got my attention.
We were split into two groups, half led to another room. A few minutes passed before a civilian woman came in to help with the projector. Then a guy came in, berating her for being late to a meeting.
This IS a test, I thought, taking note of how he looked and what he was wearing.
Sure enough, the other group came back and we were told to interview one of them about what we had seen. The different stories were stunning. He was bald, no, he had short hair. He had a goatee, no, just a mustache, no, smooth shaven. About the only thing everyone agreed on was his race (black) and his shirt (also black). The woman had long hair, no, short. blonde, no red. I did take note of her blinding white flat shoes.
“You HAVE to pay attention to details,” Sgt Jaques said. “It’s why we’re so tough on cadets. If you can’t see a loose thread on your shirt, how are you going to notice that crucial cigarette butt on the grass that will crack a case.” With all the guns and marching, it’s easy to forget these people are, in the end, police and need to learn police tactics. They also HAVE to have the RCMP’s core values ... honesty, integrity, professionalism, compassion, accountability, respect. You can fail a physical test and will be given a second chance. But lie and you are out. Instantly.
From here, lunch and the Sergeant Majors Parade. Yes, the schedule is breathtakingly tight. It teaches time management. I’m fast in a shower (a year of youth hostels way back when) but even I can’t pee, shower and dress in 60 seconds.
Several troops lined up for inspection.
“Cadet, did you have enough for lunch?” one instructor yelled at someone in front of me whose pants had ridden up between his cheeks. “You must not have ... your pants are trying to eat your butt.”
The parade was, yes, fun. The band played the theme to Indiana Jones and a thumping bass drum gave us the beat. Five years in a school marching band came back to me in a flash.
Not so for Webster, in front of me. Two steps, fade into la la land, skip to correct, two more, fade, skip. But the rest of us ... wow.
Even SW was impressed. We stayed together. We did a left wheel correctly and smartly. We looked (except for Webster) real.
Even more fun ... firearms training. We used 9 mm Smith & Wesson semi automatic pistols. With live ammo whose casings shoot into the air and, yes, sometimes land boiling hot down your collar.
I’ve held a gun only once in my life. This thing was amazingly heavy with a surprising kick.
Seven metres was easy. All the shots in the body core except the one I aimed right in the middle of the target’s forehead. Twenty-five metres, not so slick. But still, I got three of the five shots in the right place.
Webster redeemed himself. A perfect score of 25 (all shots in the center) on the 25 metre target.
Last was the driving and shooting simulators. The shooting was tougher than the live stuff, for some reason. The driving simulator was in a mock Crown Vic, the ubiquitous police car ... with snow, sleet, fog, rain, people running across your path, cars stopping suddenly. And incredible motion sickness.
I stumbled out of the seat, pea green, and was handed a bowl of mints. Yes, a lot of cadets hurl.
And finally, graduation with Assistant Commissioner Louise Lafrance. We got a handshake, certificates and pins.
Right Marker Holiday got an extra firm shake and came away with an official RCMP challenge coin.
“Next time I see you, if you’re carrying the coin, I buy you a drink. If you’re not, you buy me one,” she smiled.
And with that, it was all over. Would I survive six months of this? Nah. But next time I see a Mountie, I sure will know what went into his (or her) creation.
That evening, after a hearty steak and a long shower at a downtown hotel, we returned to Depot for the Sunset Parade. And the same disappointment washed over us all. We were no longer MOT (Members of the Tribe). We were civilians, like the rest of the tank top, jeans wearing crowd. But, still, we couldn’t bring ourselves to step on the sidewalks. 1740 wds
The RCMP Sunset Ceremony is held every Tuesday in summer July through mid August. The hour ceremony includes firing of the cannon, cadets marching, a police dog takedown demonstration, lowering the flag and a chance to meet Mounties on horseback.
RCMP Training Depot and Sunset Ceremony: www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/depot/
RCMP Heritage Centre: http://www.rcmpheritagecentre.com/
Regina Tourism: http://www.reginaroc.com
Saskatchewan Tourism: http://www.sasktourism.com/
YouTube video of real cadets marching by Janice Nieder. Don’t miss the “new” guys double timing at the end: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0O_Wqyq1-s
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